Who Stinks?

Out of all the defunct governments in the MENA region, Lebanon’s is definitely not the worst, but it’s particular problems are unique within the world, and that uniqueness makes them much more difficult to solve. Trash isn’t a problem only in Lebanon, but the extent of the trash buildup in the streets there has possible never been encountered before in our history. This has, predictably, caused a major health crisis and lead to much public protest, usually in the form of non-violent or violent demonstrations, which are called riots regardless.

The primary organizers of these demonstrations don’t intend for them to be violent, but “infiltrators” who may or may not be part of the core group, but go act against the core ideal, cause violence in the mass body of protesters in the streets, usually towards the police or civilians and not the protestors themselves. These “infiltrators” are the second of Lebanon’s problems, because it effectively bars the populace from effective protests. Protests, of course can not be effective if the protestors don’t practice what they preach. The general populace won’t take them seriously because they believe the protestors are anarchists who incite violence, and the oppressive government and media will do their best to paint the peaceful protestors as violent riot-inducing maniacs. All this happens because of these infiltrators, who metaphorically become the bad apples who spoil the whole bunch.

This is exactly what has happened with the #YouStink movement, and I’m not sure it’s fair to pin it on the movement organizers to keep their thralls in line. That seems to be ignoring the larger problem. Infiltrators in peaceful protests could capriciously take to the streets to loot during the protest, they need not even be a part of the regulated movement to begin with. Is it the protest organizer’s job then, to prepare or quickly formulate counters against these enemies whose quantity and identities are unknown?  The protestors have come to demonstrate nonviolently. They mean to create an uproar – that’s the point of the protest – but not one that causes damages or violence. If we are to hold them responsible for those that loot and pillage, whether they’re involved or not, then what alternative do we offer the protestors? Keep quiet and submit to the oppressive government’s regime? It should be clear that isn’t an adequate alternative.

In Defense of BLM

There’s a lot of debate over whether Black Lives matter is helping or hurting the non-black American perception of black Americans and the racial tensions in the country. Critics of the movement claim that protestors just hurt their own public image by engaging in not always non-violent protests, which is a fair point but one that misses the greater picture of the movement. Black Lives Matter was created in response to the still very present racial tensions in America, tensions that were greatly accentuated by the mass documentation of racist police brutality and murder of black citizens by policemen in the past five years. In some ways, being a black citizen in America seems very much like being a normal citizen in Egypt; if you look at an officer the wrong way, you could find yourself in the back of a police car heading towards the local station. If you’re very unlucky, you might die from repeated head trauma in the back of that police car before you ever get there, as in the case of Freddie Gray.

To say that Black Lives Matter heightens the racial tensions in the country might be true, but it escapes the necessity of answering the larger issue. Black Lives Matter was created as a response to heightened racial tensions, the murders by police, so to say it’s created all the racial tensions, or even most of them, is woefully uninformed. That statement also supposes that we were previously living in some super-American, post-racial haven that Black Lives Matter then corrupted by speaking up. This argument ignores almost the entire racial history of the US where blacks have been both personally and systematically persecuted by groups of whites, and it implies that perhaps the critic supposed that racial tensions ended after the Civil Rights Movement, an argument which any newspaper (other than Breitbart) could tell you is factually wrong. In this way it seems America has an underlying dichotomy similar to Egypt’s. Egypt has two splits: one between the military government and the citizens and another between the old and young. America has a split between all the different races (not just blacks and whites) and another between the militaristic government and the citizens, when those citizens are black Americans.

So the movement Black Lives Matter is aptly named, because the rest of America (especially the police) has been showing since the country’s inception that black lives don’t matter. The racial tension has always been there, and it’s about time we tell them they’re wrong.

 

 

 

On Madamasr.com, the articles detailing the Shura Council case and the No Military Trails for Civilians movement pierce right to the heart of the issue of inequality in today’s Egypt. Whereas Herrera’s article detailed the evolution of the “wired generation” in the past two decades and how it contributed to the earlier revolts and the ousting of Mubarak, the articles about the Shura Council case give insight into the corruption that lingered in Egypt even after Mubarak’s ousting.

I could list the egregious civil rights crimes committed by the Egyptian government against its own citizens, but it’s shorter to instead start with the fact that many citizens are  being tried and convicted in military courts, because it explains how the government gets away with every other crime against its own citizens. First of all, to try a civilian in a military court is a huge civil rights violation in itself. The US equivalents are the people held at Guantanamo Bay, stuck in limbo in horrible conditions, while they wait for a trial that may never come. US lawmakers constantly argue over whether to try these detainees in civilian or military courts. Military courts, in these situations, are viewed so badly because they basically function as faux-justice courts where none of the normal proceedings of fair practice or judicial law actually need to be upheld. This holds true for both the US and Egypt, but if anything the Egyptians have it much worse.

It’s fitting for the Egyptian government to have citizens tried in faux-courts because the Egyptian government is a faux-democracy. They have an elected president and a prime minister but half of the time that president (it’s now Sisi) is put into power through a military coup and the other half of the time he’s elected in rigged systems or without running against any opposition. Under this semi-presidential, semi-tyrannical government, the military and police force are given the power to bring any civilians to military trial, under pretty much any charges they see fit. There is no system or precedent to say that a person guilty of any charge, talking back against an officer for example, should face x number of years. The judged make it up on their own, and sometimes a citizen can face years of prison for a “crime” that another walked for. This system is inherently oppressive, and it’s undermining not only democracy but the human rights of Egyptian citizens.

 

 

Right place, right time

I’m grateful for the second article more than the first, because it allowed me to understand the history of these civil “social media” revolts in Egypt and gave context to the We Are All Khaled Said movement. I find it interesting that the unfolding of the successive revolts in Tunisia and then Egypt seems to mirror the growth of the We Are All Khaled Said movement itself. The first authors, Ali and El-Sharnouby made a very explicit argument that Khalid Said himself was no one particularly special or suited to martyrdom. The crux of their argument is that it was the combination of advantageous factors (eg. the picture of Khaled’s disfigured face, his witnesses’ willingness to come forward, his outwardly clean-cut appearance, and the oppressed youth his age represented) that allowed the We are All Khalid Said movement to form, many of which were either superficial (lack of wide knowledge about his involvement in drugs) and artificial (the airbrushed passport photo used on the movement’s Facebook page). It seems that Ali and El-Sharnouby wanted to imply that Khaled’s fame was due to him being the right victim at the right time and the movement’s leaders pressing his martyrdom to their advantage and even extending it.

Likewise, the ultimate “social media” revolution that overthrew Mubarak seems to have formed under these conditions of being both fortunately timed and artificially augmented. in the second article, the second author, Faris mentions how the Tunisian peoples’ revolt that overthrew their dictator, Zine el-Abadine Ben Ali, acted as a catalyst for the April 6th movement which then acted as a catalyst for We Are All Khaled Said which eventually led to revolution and the ousting and imprisonment of Mubarak. These three revolutions in Egypt and one in Tunisia weren’t the only civil rights protests ever created in their countries so why were they the ones chosen to be the ones that go down in history as overthrowing a government? It is a case of being the right revolts at the right time. There was noting particularly special about them – at first, they obviously became huge political events later – but the momentum they created coupled with the growing power of the internet created, as Faris argued, informational cascades (and I would argue moral or courage cascades as well) that allowed the energy of each revolt to feed into the next, much like how the crimes against every Egyptian citizen’s own acquaintances fueled into one person: Khaled Said. These movements were then of course seen early on in their creation, by professional activists and were artificially fed and stoked to become what they’re now remembered as. Artificiality in this case does not mean that these administrators spread lies to bolster the movements, but rather that they used their influence and the internet to spread these movements farther than the information had ever previously been disseminated.

I’m no sociologist, but it makes me wonder if the internet and mass communication have really upended the fabrics of human behavior and coincidence, and whether the future of our communication is something we’ll even be able to comprehend.